In his two part documentary called ‘The Root of all Evil’ Professor Richard Hawkins said, “Without religion, you would have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But to get good people to do evil things, you need religion”. I’m unsure if this is an original quote of his, or if he is quoting someone else. His two part documentary provides compelling argument about the dangerousness of religion.
He likens religious faith to a dangerous and deadly virus capable of causing the destruction of the entire human race and, most likely, also our planet. He further refers to faith as being, “a process of non-rational thinking”. He is also worried about what he calls a dangerous and disturbing ‘rise of fundamentalist religious thought’ in what he believes should be an ‘age of reason’ (the 21st Century).
He says, “People like to say that faith and science can live together side by side but I don’t think they can. Science is a discipline of investigation and constructive doubt, questing with logic, evidence and reason to draw conclusions. Faith by stark contrast demands a positive suspension of critical faculties. Science proceeds by setting up hypothesizes, ideas, or models and then attempts to disprove them. Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time” ( http://25by4.channel4.com/chapter_11/article_6 (February 12th 2009).
I suspect that he places ‘Science’ onto too high a pedestal. Indeed I think the Professor may have too much faith in science. If he met many of the scientific geniuses of our industrial past such as Einstein I suspect that Professor Dawkins may consider them polluted with more than an ounce or two of mystical, non scientific, irrational thought.
I agree with Voltaire when he said, “if God wasn’t real we would have invented him”(or her, or them). It disappointed me that Professor Dawkins had not mentioned or analyzed religion from the viewpoint of a social anthropologist. Had he done so he may not have such a vehement ax to yield.
Though I think the Professor does make some very valid points; I don’t think there are many who could effectively argue otherwise that many cruel and inhumane acts are perpetrated in the ‘name of religion’ or that prohibitions on the use of condoms in AIDS ridden Africa should be endorsed in the name of religion.
I think globalization and the effects of imperialism during the last two or three hundred years have done much to shatter the integrity that was most likely at the heart of various religions. Religion is a cultural animal and from the viewpoint of a social anthropologist it can be seen that the structures and hierarchies within cosmologies and religions follow certain patterns and display many commonalities.
Perhaps Professor Dawkins would suggest that the solution to, as he puts it, the dangers of ‘irrational’ religion is that we all instead become atheists, but this, I believe would ignore something fundamental in human nature. Studies of ancient cultures have not yet unearthed a culture or civilization that was atheist, and many were pantheistic.
Note that I have not yet alluded to the Professors words, ” constructive doubt, questing with logic, evidence and reason to draw conclusions”. I think what he is expressing here is a very science-centric and narrow view. Is he inferring that no other society before ours exercised constructive doubt, logic and evidence and reason upon which to draw conclusions? I think this is another example of the arrogant, culturally imperialistic viewpoint that I alluded to in the article I wrote yesterday.
Personally I consider science often to be very skewed and as with the concurrent development of western medicine it is sprinkled with more than a high dose of political expediency strongly flavored with industrial capitalism.
I agree that many religious doctrines that may have served to make cultures cohesive and safe places for their followers whilst practiced in their indigenous context now have redundant and left over practices that may be harmful or dangerous in the post industrial spiritual and religious landscape much of the world currently inhabits. The ‘interfaith movement’ strives to address such issues and recently appears to have been gaining rapid ground and more international acceptance.
What I call ‘science worship’ to my mind is equally as dangerous as the science that the Professor alludes to. After all science only discovers what it is that is being looked for and what it is capable of seeing and to suggest that science is anything other than axiomatic is just ludicrous. To further suggest that constructive doubt, logic and evidence and reason upon which to draw conclusions is something that only 1st world culture has a licence to is equally ludicrous as well as extremely arrogant.
That the whole world should become atheists in order to eradicate moral scourges is not the answer I suspect Professor Dawkins may imagine it to be. He is suggesting ‘throwing the baby out with the dishwater’. Does he also disagree with the latest thinking of quantum psychics which tells us that what it is that is being observed is influenced by the observer? In the words of a close friend of mine, “Science is a metaphor albeit a useful and, at times beautiful one”. Matter is a metaphor, molecules are a metaphor for the movements of energy.
The utility afforded by the exercising of “constructive doubt, logic and evidence and reason upon which to draw conclusions” is only an aspect of the human condition that can, perhaps, be likened to an important element of our diet (such as protein) whereas the inherently human propensity to attempt to order the universe into an overarching cosmology might be likened into something such as the carbohydrate.
Can faith move mountains? Keep posted.